Game-Based Learning | Part 2 of 10 – The Neuroscience of Serious Games
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Game-Based Learning | Part 2 of 10 – The Neuroscience of Serious Games

David Chandross: Welcome back today for podcast
two in our series of gamification and mixed reality, brought to you by the center for
teaching and learning here at Humber College in Rexdale, Ontario. I hope you’re doing well this week, and you’re
ready for more exciting gamification update. What I promised you last week is that we would
spend a little time talking about an interesting idea related to Ebbing House’s work of how
we get students to engage with material after we’ve presented so that they really start
to own the material. But there’s a fundamental kind of question
we’re going to kind of deal with today, and that is how do we get students to focus and
pay attention? Now attention is a really interesting area. A lot of my original work on cognitive neuroscience
had to do with studying what attention is, and attention is signaled by waves that appear
in the cortex called the P300 wave for example, this occurs 300 milliseconds after you hear
a stimulus. We do have wave forms and electrical activity
in the brain related to focused attention, but what’s really interesting is our ability
to not focus our attention and how much that plays a part in everyday life. Stay with me here, because you’re going on
a great little journey that just got me so excited when I looked at his work. Paul Howard-Jones, not Howard Jones from the
1980’s with the kind of, Mohawk but Paul Howard-Jones at the University of Bristol has been publishing
since about 2011 using functional magnetic resins imaging studies to look at what occurs
in the brain of learners during game versus non-game conditions. I’m going to get you a little bit orientated
on slides like this. These are all FMRI images, so we’re essentially
seeing, as this test subject is thinking, what parts of the brain are lighting up. And these little regions here are called default
mode networks. Now what that means is that these are parts
of the brain that shut off our focus in the external world and allow us to make things
into procedures so we don’t have to pay attention. You know when you drove to work last time? You weren’t thinking about everything on the
road, you might have been thinking about what you’re going to have for dinner, maybe cruising
the radio dial, you weren’t really focused. You weren’t mindful of you’re driving, you
were in a default mode. And that works for a lot of life. Imagine if it didn’t work, we’d go nuts from
the amount of information bombarding us. Our brain turns off certain things and puts
us in default mode, but you get default mode problems when you’re a physician managing
patients, where you start to space out a little bit and you’re kind of working on habit rather
than focusing on the patient in front of you. When we’re seeing upwards … My colleagues
at the University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine, we do a lot of good gamification work with,
are assuring us that somewhere in the area of 70 to 80% of medical errors are from the
doctor being in the default mode. They’ve seen so many cases that are like the
one in front of them that they stop thinking about the details of that case and make medication
errors et cetera. Our colleagues at John Hopkins, who do great
work in cognitive science, have really illuminated us on the work of cognitive mode, kind of
default mode processing during learning and teaching. Now this is interesting, if you look at these
figures, these are game based. This is a case where the learner was playing
a learning game. Now a simple learning could be when you get
this question right, you get $50 bucks, and if you get the next one right, you get $100
bucks and if you get three questions right in a row, you get a bonus of $1000. This is what’s called the titritable
game element, so they could move more risk and more game element in and out of it, to
tie trade it, to measure it. The subjects that you see on the right are
people that engaging and learning the same material but these subjects on the right are
only using self-study, so they’re going through their notes and reviewing the kinds of things
that your students might do after a lecture. Now you see these here? These are default mode regions that are lighting
up and this is an algorithmic scale, so if it’s dark, it’s real dark and it’s bright,
it’s real bright. Look at bright and how extensive the default
mode is in someone doing self-study, in other words, even though they’re in the process
of self-study, they’re kind of spacing out. They’re not really focusing, and we all know
what happens when we study, we think about dinner, we think about things we want to do,
then we get back to the books. This kind of idea, it’s very hard to escape
and to be in a very mindful state, and this is what he sees in his research. On the bottom panel, here we’re comparing
game base verses self-quizzing in the same subject. Again, look at the size and the color of these
default mode regions when they’re doing quizzes. So when you’re writing a quiz, you’re still
in default mode, isn’t that interesting? You’d think you’d be focused during quizzing,
but quizzing is almost a pattern recognition process, especially multiple choice. Look what’s happening in game base, look how
much smaller these area, and look at the difference in brightness. We could see that according to the Paul Howard-Jones
work at Bristol, and he’s published a lot in this area, that gamification seems to make
us focus and pay attention and present with mindfulness in learning. That’s pretty interesting and he’s not been
able to replicate these effects using other techniques. Now something else happens in his studies,
and this has been replicated by other authors and that is the stimulation of the ventral
striatum. Now the ventral striatum, as you can see,
ventral means sort of top and striatum means striped, it’s a top striped area and it’s
right down here in the basal ganglia, and this is a part of the region of the brain
that we used to think was only involved in motor control. Michael J. Fox suffers from Parkinsonism as
part of Parkinson’s disease, which gives you shaking and these kinds of things. But we now know that the ventral striatum
is the major reward learning center for the brain, and what it does is contains a lot
of neurons which contain a chemical called dopamine, which we’re going to talk a lot
about in our next podcast. Dopamine has a lot to do with reward prediction. If I invite you over for dinner and I give
you a great bottle of wine and I do that five or six times, you get the idea that when you’re
coming to my place, you’re going to drink some seriously good wine. Then you show up and I have no wine for you,
you’re going to feel a little bit sad and say, “What’s with this? Do I not count anymore?” It’s this whole idea that the ventral striatum
helps us predict and adjust rewards. What happens in game base learning conditions
is the ventral striatum lights up like a Christmas tree. It does not light up during self-study or
quizzing. Now this is the reward base learning, so again,
it’s not the major reward center of the brain, it’s the major learning reward. A lot of what we do in life has to do with
learning rewards. When we drink a beautiful cabernet we learn
to associate that brand with a reward. When we think about beauty, we listen to a
great death metal concert, or if you like country music, there you go. If it’s beautiful art, you head off to the
gallery and you see your favorite show. All of these things are triggering off the
ventral striatum. They’re all triggering some kind of reaction
and your reward that you get when you go to the art gallery or go to a heavy metal concert,
is it that your ventral striatum gets excited and it’s giving a feeling of reward when you
hear you’re favorite music. These are very complex figures, I only put
them up there to show that there’s some science behind it. But again, this is another picture using,
again, this algorithmic scale from the FMRI showing that the ventral striatum is only
activated during game base learning condition in Howard-Jones work, which means that we’re
not only turning off the ability to space out, in our students when they’re gaming,
but we’re also turning on the reward learning mechanisms in the brain. Fascinating stuff right there. So how much did you remember from last week
in our Ebbing House Forgetting Curve? Jeez if you could answer this question, you’re
better than me because I’ve forgotten already because I didn’t review it. But again, what we want to try and talk about
today and try to conclude with is the idea that memory is a very complex process and
that gamification plays a big role. It appears from all the research that we’ve
looked at, in not only focus, but reward. But also in coding, retrieval and maintenance. This is pictures of the cortex and you can
see that encoding new memories, retrieving memories, or maintaining memories are all
diffuse operations occurring throughout the brain. Therefore we have different types of working
memory, we’ve given a couple examples here of phonological loops, which might be the
hearing memory or listening to something and trying to remember it. Visual, spatial sketch pad, this would be
knowing where you are in a room. These are scene based memories. They’re controlled by a neurotransmitter called
neurotensin, we’ll talk about that in later podcasts because that gets involved in virtual
reality and seeing. Very, very interesting work that’s been done
in that area. We also have central executive memory and
episodic buffers, so I don’t want to floor with kinds of research in the neuroscience
of memory, but the basic idea is that video games, seem to be able to tap into these memory
circuits in a variety of ways, and neuro-physiologic. We had a lot of early evidence that showed
us that fast paced games, people that played them, had better vision, better attention
and better cognition. It’s not the video games are bad for you,
it appears that video games are good for you. We know that certain video games can even
encourage physical activity. They can also promote social interactions,
there’s some really fascinating work on violent video games and empathy. We have absolute evidence that when you play
violent video games, your brain changes it’s morphologic structure, so that when you see
blood and guts being splashed on your screen, doesn’t faze you at all. So you’d think that’s a pretty bad thing,
I’m not sure that’s a good thing, however a ten year study looking at violent video
gamers, they thought that violent people that play violent video games and looked at their
empathy, and their empathy were either increased or stable throughout the ten year period. There’s a lot of video games that you go into
that might be violent but other people are playing the games with you and they’ll help
you out. We see altruistic player behaviors. What’s interesting is some of the ideas we
have about video games being harmful or not useful for us, may have to undergo some revision
and thinking. This is where we talk about it. The pro social games, when we’re actually
helping someone in a game or in a learning game, these help others in real life situations. We also have all kinds of evidence not only
from Tetris players but from players that play role playing games and all kinds of interesting
three-dimensional video games, that your cortex gets thicker. Areas like the entorhinal cortex and the hippocampus,
the learning and memory circuit areas of the brain, actually increase in size. Gaming actually produces morphologic and functional
changes in the physiology of the brain. This is the cognitive cycle just enough to
help us remember how little we know about it all. What I’ve tried to say today is that uncertainly
gives us focus, and that’s a take home message we want to move forward with here. That is that when you’re not sure of a choice
and you have three equally compelling options in front of you, you’re going to focus. You’re going to say, “Jeez I want to do all
three things.” Do you want dinner? Do you want theater? Or a new car? “Jeez they’re both good, maybe we’ll take
the car.” The idea is that when you have three equally
compelling options and you’re forced to choose one of those options, this kicks us into an
uncertainty phase which then focuses our attention and that’s the basis a lot of what we’ve talked
about today. That kicks off this complex circuit of memory
that our earlier researchers could have never imagined. Here’s a little taste of what we’ll be talking
about next week. The dopamine drip, a dopamine release and
compulsion cycles in gaming. Until then, game on, have a great week, we’ll
see yeah next week with a little bit of neuropharmacology. Great stuff. See you then!

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